Photo caption: Osage Language instructor Cameron Pratt teaches an hour of the Osage language to students at Daposka Ahnkodapi on Sept. 15, 2020. CODY HAMMER/Osage News
Add school accreditation to the list of COVID-induced delays and impacts.
Speaking before Osage Congress’s Education Committee on Sept. 9, Daposka Ahnkodapi superintendent Patrick Martin confirmed that the immersion school’s accreditation timeline has been pushed back thanks to the pandemic. A site visit from Cognia, a private school accreditation entity, that was originally scheduled for this fall will not take place until late February at the earliest.
“COVID has changed some things on us,” Martin said.
Accreditation is a process by which individual schools or entire school districts are certified as achieving minimum standards of quality. Those exact standards vary by state but guarantee that students are able to transfer to another institution. The process can take up to four years.
Accreditation as a private school would potentially make the school eligible to participate in two state-run scholarship programs: the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship, which provides tuition scholarships for disabled students who have an individualized education plan, and the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship, which is a tax credit scholarship program for families with an income of up to 300 percent of the eligibility limit for free or reduced-price school meals.
The school, which added a fourth grade class this year, started the academic year with 31 students, with no more than seven students per grade. Currently, no students are on the waiting list and the school currently has enough space to add a fifth grade class next year.
A partnership with Pawhuska Public Schools or another district to pursue charter school status is not necessarily off the table, but has also stalled out thanks to the ongoing pandemic. Pursuing the charter school route would make Daposka Ahnkodapi eligible to receive student aid from the state of Oklahoma rather than rely solely on tribal funds and parent tuition.
“I’m listening to this accreditation conversation and it’s a big deal,” Education Committee Chairman R.J. Walker said. “It helps legitimize the school. It could help with enrollment. But it’s being decided by a non-Osage entity. I’m sitting here … as a member of Congress, I need to look at efficiency of tribal spending. That’s why the $25,000 per student in tribal dollars is bothersome to me.”
The COVID-19 virus has also prompted changes to the immersion school’s daily routine. Although some of its students are participating entirely via online instruction, Daposka Ahnkodapi is conducting in-person classes this semester. Along with daily screenings, it has also become another way to expand the students’ vocabulary through regular reminders to wash their hands.
“Sha.keh Tha.luzha all day long,” Martin said.